Vermont Woman, Who Went Missing as a Child in 1976, Reunited With South Korean Birth Family

Denise McCarty had gone missing on a trip to Namdaemun Market in Seoul as a child.
Denise McCarty had gone missing on a trip to Namdaemun Market in Seoul as a child.(Getty)

Denise McCarty, now 46, was separated from her family on a routine trip to the market. She was then taken to an orphanage and adopted by an American family.

It has been 44 years since a Vermont woman adopted from South Korea became separated from her twin sister and grandmother at a busy market, but Denise McCarty, now 46, is finally reunited with her birth family. The emotional reunion was done over video call due to the distance and coronavirus restrictions on travel.

“We never abandoned you, Sang-Ae,” said McCarthy’s twin sister, Sang-Hee, during the reunion, calling McCarty by her Korean name. “We were looking for you every day.”

McCarty, who had always thought she was abandoned as a baby, told Korea Now she hadn’t previously known anything about her birth family: “I didn’t know I had a sister, and then to be a twin.”

She was just three years old when she had gone missing while on a trip to the Namdaemun Market in Seoul with her grandmother and Sang-Hee. Sang-Hee had also disappeared, but was found. Few days later. McCarty, however, was taken to an orphanage.

Months later, on Christmas eve 1976, McCarty was adopted by a Vermont family, who was told she was abandoned at the hospital because she was sick.

Her birth mom, however, said she never stopped searching. “You are still registered as my daughter in Korea,” she said, holding up documents during the video conference meeting. She explained she had never left the village in hopes McCarty would one day return. They even kept copies of the flyers they posted around town.

It wasn’t until a DNA program became available to match U.S. adoptees with their South Korean families. McCarty had signed up for the program in 2016, and her birth mom registered the following year.

Earlier this month, their DNA was matched.

“I never knew I had family,” McCarty said. “To have that missing piece to what happened to me is just incredibly overwhelming and happy and it makes me feel whole.”